|Romeo and Juliet (balcony scene)|
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Learn Old English forms with what is probably the most romantic scene in the world's literature, and certainly the most famous scene from Shakespeare's play "Romeo and Juliet". It's based on an Italian legend from Verona, and immortalized by Shakespeare, who made of it his most famous play (together with Hamlet). You can check the original version of this scene together with the modern translation here: Scene II in modern English.
Romeo and Juliet are two young lovers who are not allowed to be together because their families, the Montague and the Capulets, are rivals and hate each other. So in this monologue Juliet is pondering about the importance of a name, pronouncing a sentence so famous that it is still a common expression in English 4 centuries later: "a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet" meant to say that the names of things do not matter, only what things are..
(fragment from the film "Romeo and Juliet", by Zeffirelli, 1968)
But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?
It is my lady, O, it is my love!
O, that she knew she were!
She speaks yet she says nothing: what of that?
Her eye discourses; I will answer it.
I am too bold, 'tis not to me she speaks:
Two of the fairest stars in all the heavens,
Having some business, do entreat her eyes
To twinkle in their spheres till they return.
See, how she leans her cheek upon her hand!
O, that I were a glove upon that hand,
That I might touch that cheek!
O, speak again, bright angel!
O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name;
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I'll no longer be a Capulet.
Shall I hear more, or shall I speak at this?
'Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What is Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo called,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.
I take thee at thy word:
Call me but love, and I'll be new baptized.
Henceforth I never will be Romeo.
What man art thou that thus bescreen'd in night
So stumblest on my counsel?
By a name
I know not how to tell thee who I am:
My name, dear saint, is hateful to myself,
Because it is an enemy to thee;
Had I it written, I would tear the word.
My ears have not yet drunk a hundred words
Of that tongue's utterance, yet I know the sound:
Art thou not Romeo and a Montague?
Neither, fair saint, if either thee dislike.
How camest thou hither, tell me, and wherefore?
The orchard walls are high and hard to climb,
And the place death, considering who thou art,
If any of my kinsmen find thee here.
With love's light wings did I o'er-perch these walls;
For stony limits cannot hold love out,
And what love can do that dares love attempt;
Therefore thy kinsmen are no stop to me.
If they do see thee, they will murder thee.
I have night's cloak to hide me from their sight;
And but thou love me, let them find me here:
My life were better ended by their hate,
Than death prorogued, wanting of thy love.
Dost thou love me? I know thou wilt say 'Ay,'
And I will take thy word: yet if thou swear'st,
Thou mayst prove false; at lovers' perjuries
Then say, Jove laughs. O gentle Romeo,
If thou dost love, pronounce it faithfully:
Or if thou think'st I am too quickly won,
I'll frown and be perverse an say thee ‘nay’,
So thou wilt woo; but else, not for the world.
In truth, fair Montague, I am too fond,
And therefore thou mayst think my 'havior light:
But trust me, gentleman, I'll prove more true
Than those that have more cunning to be strange.
I should have been more strange, I must confess,
But that thou overheard'st, ere I was ware,
My true love's passion: therefore pardon me,
And not impute this yielding to light love,
Which the dark night hath so discovered.
Lady, by yonder blessed moon I swear
O, swear not by the moon, the inconstant moon,
That monthly changes in her circled orb,
Lest that thy love prove likewise variable.
What shall I swear by?
Do not swear at all;
Or, if thou wilt, swear by thy gracious self,
Which is the god of my idolatry,
And I'll believe thee.
If my heart's dear love—
I swear… oh, Juliet!
Sweet, good night!
This bud of love, by summer's ripening breath,
May prove a beauteous flower when next we meet.
Good night, good night! as sweet repose and rest
Come to thy heart as that within my breast!
O, wilt thou leave me so unsatisfied?
What satisfaction canst thou have to-night?
The exchange of thy love's faithful vow for mine.
I gave thee mine before thou didst request it:
And yet I would it were to give again.
Wouldst thou withdraw it? for what purpose, love?
But to be frank, and give it thee again.
And yet I wish but for the thing I have:
My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep; the more I give to thee,
The more I have, for both are infinite.
[Nurse calls within]
Anon, good nurse! Sweet Montague, be true.
Stay but a little, I will come again.
O blessed, blessed night! I am afeard.
Being in night, all this is but a dream,
Too flattering-sweet to be substantial.
Three words, dear Romeo, and good night indeed.
If that thy bent of love be honourable,
Thy purpose marriage, send me word to-morrow,
By one that I'll procure to come to thee,
Where and what time thou wilt perform the rite;
And all my fortunes at thy foot I'll lay
And follow thee my lord throughout the world.
I come, anon.--But if thou mean'st not well,
I do beseech thee--
By and by, I come:--
To cease thy suit, and leave me to my grief:
To-morrow will I send.
Oh, so thrive my soul--
A thousand times good night!
At what o'clock to-morrow
Shall I send to thee?
At the hour of nine.
I will not fail: 'tis twenty years till then.
I have forgot why I called thee back.
Let me stand here till thou remember it.
I shall forget, to have thee still stand there
Remembering how I love thy company.
And I'll still stay, to have thee still forget,
Forgetting any other home but this.
Good night, good night! parting is such
That I shall say good night till it be morrow.
SOME GENERAL CONSIDERATIONS FIRST:
This piece of literature was published in 1597, when modern English was just beginning. But there are still some important archaisms not in used today that you must know to understand this. The most important one is the singular form for "you".
In old English we had two forms for the second person:
singular: THOU – THEE – THY/THINE -THINE – THYSELF
plural: YOU – YE – YOUR – YOURS –YOURSELVES
In most European countries it became fashionable to use the plural form to show respect (Frech vous, Spanish vos, etc.), so English people used the plural YOU as a respectful form for both singular and plural. The ordinary form THOU slowly came out of use and today it is only used in poetry (sometimes), in prayers (when talking to God), by the Quakers (a religious community in America) and in some English dialects.
subject: THOU /ðaʊ/
The verbs with THOU are usually ending in -st or –est:
"thou goest" /ðaʊ gəʊɪst/ (=you go), "thou givest" (=you give), and the irregular forms: art, hast, canst, didst, mayst, wilt, dost etc. "thou art" /ðaʊ ɑ:t/ (=you are), "thou dost" /ðaʊ dʌst/ (=you do)
object: THEE /ði:/
"I love thee" (=I love you)
possessive adjective: THY /ðaɪ/ THINE /ðaɪn/
It was used in the same way as modern article A/AN: We use THY in front of a consonant and THINE in front of a vowel:
- I love thine eyes (= I love your eyes)
- I love thy hair (=I love your hair)
possessive pronoun: THINE /ðaɪn/
- Those shoes are thine, my lady (=those shoes are yours, miss)
reflexive: THYSELF /ðaɪself/
- thou hast to do it thyself (= you have to do it yourself)
In Shakespeare's time, the past ending -ED was already pronounced pretty much like in modern English, but in poetry it was still used the older pronunciation (kind of recent at that time) /ɪd/, so in modern texts, to help the reader know if they should or should not pronounce the E in -ed, apostrophes are used, so this should be the pronunciation of these forms:
- I loved thee /lʌvɪd/
- I lov'd thee /lʌvd/
But in Shakespeare's time both forms were spelled as "loved" (so love'd is a modern convention to help with the pronunciation).
Exactly the same thing applies to the pronunciation of the -est ending for the 2nd person in the present (thou), so as a convention we now spell:
- if thou thinkest I am too quickly won... /ðaʊ θɪŋkɪst/
- If thou think'st I am too quickly won... /ðaʊ θɪŋkst/
In the north of England, because of Viking influence, the ending of the 3rd person singular (present tense) was -S, same as today, but in the south of England the ending was -ETH /ɪθ/. Same as we said before for the 2nd person and the past, the -E- part may be dropped or pronounce, and the modern convention marks this with an apostrophe:
- He never cometh to see thee /kʌmɪθ/
- He never com'th to see thee /kʌmθ/
And then we have the usual irregular forms: doth /dʌθ/, hath, etc.
BUT, SOFT!= Don't make a noise! / Speak softly
Yonder = That over there (e.g. What is yonder light? = What is that light over there?)
Today we have "this / that", old English had "this / that / yonder".
O, THAT SHE KNEW SHE WERE= Oh, I wish she knew she is [my love]!
BOLD= Brave. A bold person is not afraid of doing dangerous or difficult things.
'TIS= (old fashioned contraction) It is.
FAIREST= (old fashioned) Most beautiful. (fare = pretty, as in "My Fair Lady")
THE HEAVENS= The sky.
TWO OF THE FAIREST STARS...
"Two of the fairest stars in all the heavens, having some business, do entreat her eyes to twinkle in their spheres till they return."
This means that two stars from heaven came to earth because they had something to do here, and until they return to heaven, they begged Juliet's eyes to let them shine on her face. That's why her eyes are so beautiful, they are in fact two stars.
UPON= (old fashioned) On.
THAT I WERE A GLOVE UPON THAT HAND! = I wish I was a glove on her hand (to be so close to her skin).
THAT I MIGHT TOUCH THAT CHEEK= So that I could touch her cheek.
OH, ME!= In modern English it is more common to say "Oh, my!", or "Oh, My God".
WHEREFORE= (old fashioned) Why?
WHEREFORE ART THOU ROMEO?= Why are you Romeo? (why have you got that name?).
To understand this part remember that Romeo's and Juliet's families don't allow to be together because they are rival families, enemies, so it is Romeo's name (and Juliet's name) the only thing that separates them.
IF THOU WILT NOT= If you will not (if you don't want to do it).
Even in modern English, WILL is often used with the same meaning as "want" (e.g. "will you come to my party?" = do you want to come to my party?)
BE BUT SWORN MY LOVE= Swear that you will only love me forever.
SHALL= In old English (and in England until the 20th century) this was the form for the first person, singular and plural, of the verb WILL. The conjugation was:
I shall, you will, he will, we shall, you will, they will. It was used to express volition (= want) or advice and obligation (= should).
Today we only use SHALL as an archaism and to express a promise (I shall stay with you forever), to make a suggestion (shall we go to the cinema?) and a few other cases.
SHALL I HEAR MORE= (old fashioned) Should I keep listening?
THOU ART THYSELF, THOUGH NOT A MONTAGUE= You are not a Montague, you are simply you.
THAT WHICH WE CALL A ROSE, BY ANY OTHER NAME WOULD SMELL AS SWEET= If we change the name of a rose, it would still have a wonderful smell, so it's not the name what makes a rose wonderful, the name is not important.
WERE HE NOT ROMEO CALLED= If he wasn't called Romeo.
We can still use this form today. Instead of using the conjunction IF, we can make an inversion with the simple past. In modern English, in a conditional sentence, we can say "I was" or "I were", though in England many people consider "I was" too colloquial or even incorrect.
- had you not been famous, she wouldn't have married you = If you hadn't been famous, she wouldn't have married you.
DOFF THY NAME= Get rid of your name, reject it.
The old fashioned verbs DON (> do on) and DOFF (> do off) were used as an equivalent of "put on" and "take off" (clothes and complements).
I TAKE THEE AT THY WORD= I take you at your word (I accept the deal).
Romeo says here: you have made a promise and I believe you, so you must keep that promise. She said that if Romeo refuses his name, she will offer herself to him, so Romeo says: alright, I refuse my name, so you must give yourself to me.
CALL ME BUT LOVE AND I'LL BE NEW BAPTIZED= I have already refused my name, so you can call me "love", and that will be my new name.
Christian children used to have no name until the moment of baptism (when they become Christians by getting some water poured on their heads). So to be newly baptised is to receive a new name.
HENCEFORTH= (formal) From now on, from this moment.
HAD IT WRITTEN, …= If I had it written…
UTTERANCE= Something said.
YET= Nevertheless; but.
NEITHER= /naɪðə*/ I’m not one thing or the other.
- Would you like coffee or tea?
- Neither, thanks, I’d prefer some wine.
FAIR= (old fashioned) Beautiful.
HITHER= (formal) to this place.
(Thither= to that place, in that direction)
KINSMEN= (old fashioned) Relatives; family.
I HAVE NIGHT’S CLOAK TO HIDE ME FROM THEIR SIGHT= The darkness of the night will hide me (like a black cloak) so they won’t be able to see me.
BUT THOU LOVE ME= Except if you love me / Unless you love me.
WANTING OF= In need of; needing
AY= (old fashioned or dialectal, usually spelled “Aye” and still used in the British Parliament when voting) /aɪ/ Yes.
Also (old English, not used anymore) /eɪ/ Always.
JOVE= (still in use, though old fashioned) Jupiter.
A comic or old fashioned expression is “by Jove!” (= oh my god!)
NAY= (old fashioned or dialectal) /neɪ/ No
WOO= To act with another person trying to win her affection because you want to be lovers.
I AM TOO FOND= I love you so much.
‘HAVIOR= Behaviour (the way you act)
If your behaviour is light, you act without thinking or without considering the consequences of it, so you’re being foolish or whimsical or immature.
CUNNING= Skill to deceive.
If you are cunning, you are sly (you can fool people easily).
As a noun, cunning is the ability to deceive people, to fool them.
YONDER= (Old fashioned or poetical) That.
In Old English we used “this” (here), “that” (there) and “yonder” (over there).
LEST THAT= In case; for fear that; to prevent that…
IF THOU WILT= If you want
The verb “will” was usually used to express volition, like “want”, and today, it very often retains the old meaning:
- Will you come to my party (invitation) = Do you want to come to my party.
- I asked her, but she won’t tell me = She doesn’t want to tell me.
- No and thrice no, I won’t go = I refuse to go, I don’t want to go.
BEAUTEOUS= (Old English or poetry) Beautiful
ANON= (Old English or dialectal) Soon; in a moment.
If somebody called you and you said “anon!”, the modern equivalent would be “I’m coming!”.
BE TRUE= Be faithful.
BY AND BY= (old fashioned) Soon.
AT WHAT O’CLOCK= (Old English) At what time.
MORROW= (Old English and poetry) Morning.